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Big Ten Football Countdown: No.5 Michigan State

Michigan State looks towards their defense to win games this season.

2012 was a disappointing year for Sparty, starting out the year as favorites to win the Big Ten then losing five of their last eight games to end the regular season. Once again Michigan State has the tools necessary to win, although that has seemed to be the case the past few season for the Spartans. Head Coach Mark Dantonio has been hot and cold while at Michigan State, so if history tells us anything it is that Michigan State will rebound in 2013 and compete for a Big Ten title. And quite frankly that claim isn't all that much of a stretch considering MSU returns 17 starters, including their QB Andrew Maxwell. Michigan State's schedule isn't particularly easy, having road games at Nore Dame, Nebraska and Northwestern, but those are only games they have a serious chance of losing. The rest of schedule is serviceable (except maybe Michigan at home) and should provide Michigan State with eight or nine wins.

2012 Record: 7-6 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 17 (9 OFF, 7 DEF, 1 ST)

Key Losses on Offense: RB Le'Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims, G Chris McDonald, K Dan Conroy

Key Losses on Defense: DE William Gholston, DT Anthony Rashad White, CB Johnny Adams

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio: 51-28 (7th Year)

Strength: Defense

While the Spartans record may change, one thing will remain the same, the rock solid defense. Michigan State had the best defense in the Big Ten and will only get better when they return seven starters to squad that allowed just 16.3 points a game. MSU was No.2 in pass defense in the Big Ten last season, allowing just 175.7 yards passing game, and returns S Kurtis Drummond (53 TOT 2 INT), S Isiah Lewis (80 TOT 2 INT) and Big Ten first team CB Darqueze Dennard (52 TOT 3 INT) to the secondary. Big Ten first team LB Max Bullough (111 TOT 2.5 SACK) leads a front seven that allowed 98.6 rushing yards a game. The offense may not be the strongest this fall, but the defense should be good enough for MSU to win 13-10 or 17-13 games.

Weakness/Questions: Runningback and Tight End

The Spartans rushing attack was obliterated when RB Le'Veon Bell (1793 yds. 12 TD) departed with 92.3% of MSU's rushing yards. All the pressure will go on RB Nick Hill (48 yds. 1 TD) to replicate what Bell produced, although he could get close considering four of the five offensive line starters return. TE Dion Sims (475 yds. 2 TD) is another significant loss to the offense and will be replaced by Andrew Gleichert (8 yds.). QB Andrew Maxwell (2606 yds. 13 TD) will have to improve his numbers as he had just four more touch downs than interceptions (9) last season. He should have little trouble doing that after his second off season with receivers Bennie Fowler (524 yds. 4 TD), Keith Mumphery (515 yds. 1 TD), Tony Lippett (392 yds. 2 TD) and Aaron Burbridge (34 yds. 2 TD).

Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2)

Bowl Game: Gator Bowl